Opinion

COLUMN: A step beyond tightening medical pot grows

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We all know the headaches that illegal pot grow-ops cause for communities, their citizens, and their emergency services.

Fires caused by wiring that’s been tampered with to avoid power bills. Rip missions by criminals who want to cash in quick on someone else’s crops.

And worst of all, home invasions for the purpose of the latter that target the wrong house or building, resulting in mega trauma for the innocent occupants, or injury, or worse.

Yet, this past week, it’s been legal grow operations drawing on the resources of  the Abbotsford Fire and Rescue Service, and the Abbotsford Police Department (APD).

Firefighters were first called out to a fire at a medical marijuana growing facility on Townshipline Road.

The fire was contained to a powerhouse building on the site, and the main production building was not involved in the fire.

The same day, police paid a visit to another medical pot grow.

According to police, a warrant had been prepared and APD officers contacted Health Canada on two occasions to determine whether a permit or licence was in place for the location or person attached to it.

Health Canada did not confirm whether there was a licence or a permit.

Police executed the warrant, and ended up seizing 250 plants from an operation licensed for 35.

An isolated case of abuse? Impossible to believe, given that in the past decade, the federal medical pot licensing program has grown from under 500 authorized people to more than 26,000.

Stephen Gamble, president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, says an average of one in 22 legal and illegal grow-ops catch fire, which is 24 times higher than the average home.

Remarkably enough, the feds aren’t obligated to tell local authorities in advance where legitimate grow operations are located, or who is holding licences.

Nor are local governments able to zone for the licences, or inspect them.

This is a truly dysfunctional system.

Little wonder the chief of Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service is supporting Health Canada’s proposed regulations to make such operations safer.

Don Beer agrees with Len Garis, president of the Fire Chiefs Association of B.C. (FCABC), who maintains that “taking marijuana production out of homes and into a licensed commercial environment is a step in the right direction.”

By the way, neither Beer nor Garis have an issue with pot use for medicinal purposes, nor should they. It’s not their job. Safety is.

Health Canada has committed to inspecting and auditing medical marijuana producers to make sure they comply with regulations.

The federal Ministry of Health recently announced that changes will be made to the way Canadians access marijuana for medical purposes.

The federal government says it plans to implement the system by March 31, 2013, at which point all current licenses to possess or produce pot would expire.

Isn’t this all just another good reason to scrap the present laws surrounding pot use, and simply put production, sale and taxation under government regulation? Washington state to the south voted last fall to do just that.

It delivers a major hit to crime related to illegal production and sale. It removes criminal charges for minor possession, and all the impact that has on enforcement and judicial system resources.

More regulation on medical marijuana grows may be a step in the right direction.

There’s a much bigger one to be taken.

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